Foraging: Fresh Food at Your Fingertips

Here’s a follow-up to my recent blog radio interview on one of my new hobbies–Foraging!  Interested in gathering some wild edibles?  Listen in for a taste of what you could be eating straight from nature!


Transcript for Foraging: Fresh Food at Your Fingertips

Hi and welcome to Nutritionally Speaking.  I’m your host, Michaela Ballmann.  Today I’m going to do a follow-up to my recent radio interview with Rebecca Subbiah, one of my good friends on Twitter.  If you don’t follow her, why don’t you go on Twitter right now and follow @chowandchatter.  She’s a wonderful mom, dietitian, and social media guru.

I wanted to share a little bit more about my recent foraging adventures.  I am located in Southern California, so the wild food in your area might differ slightly or significantly from what we have here.

I’ve recently been getting more interested and active in gardening and foraging.  Going to farmers’ markets does help me get in touch with local farmers and food, but I want to grow my own food.  More than that, I want to know what foods that grow in the wild are safe, edible, and nutritious.  It is very fulfilling to see how food goes from a seed to the thing I put in my mouth, and to realize the bounty of food that is all around us.

I want to start by recommending that newbies to foraging either get a good book and/or take a class on wild foods to become familiar with the poisonous varieties, especially the look-a-likes of common edible plants.  Even though I’m sure you would much rather spend your time and energy getting familiar with all the “safe” plants, it is equally, if not more, important to familiarize yourself with the plants that could do you harm.

Enough with the disclaimer!  Let’s get to the good stuff!  If you’re listening to this on iTunes, you can always check out this post on my website to see pictures of the foods I am describing.

The first food I’d like to talk to you about is one that I actually didn’t get to forage since its season was past, but our instructor had made a salsa out of it.  It’s called Purslane. Purslane is usually found during the summer and the leaves and thinner stems can be used pretty much any way you can imagine.  What’s really neat is that Purslane is a good source of omega-3’s, especially for vegetarians.  In fact, 100 Grams of fresh purslane leaves (about 1 cup) contain 300 to 400 mg of alpha linolenic acid (ALA).



Wood Sorrel is a beautiful little plant that has three sets of heart-shaped leaves with black dots on top and yellow flowers.  You can eat the plant raw in a salad or in cooked dishes like stews or even steeped in a tea.  Being from the genus Oxalis, it contains oxalic acid (like spinach and broccoli) and has an acidic, sour taste that is actually quite good.  It is often recommended to moderate your intake of this food, and eat it in its whole form so that you do not get toxic levels of oxalic acid.  I’m not sure how much you would have to eat to cause damage to your kidneys, but as a precaution, I probably wouldn’t juice this plant or cook it down and eat it in excess.  On a positive note, Wood Sorrel is high in Vitamin C as well as some B vitamins.


Mugwort is a very interesting plant that has had a variety of uses within the Native American culture.  It looks a bit like a claw with its 5-6 pointy sides, and the underside is a distinctive white compared to the deep green of its topside.  It’s been said that the Romans used it to help them with foot pain, and it’s been used by many to transport fire, since it continues to burn and smoke.  The Chinese also use it in moxibustion, which involves burning the dried mugwort at acupuncture points through various methods, whether a moxa stic, application to the acupuncture needle or direct application to the skin.  It may also function as an antiseptic or even a remedy for poison oak.


Cattail is another very versatile wild plant.  When it comes to survival, you can use the brown, furry, cigar-shaped head (also known as the female reproductive part of the plant) as insulation or bedding; or you can light in on fire and use it as a torch.  The male part of the flower is directly above and gets covered with yellow pollen that you can shake off and use as flour in bread or sprinkled on things like oatmeal.  I’ve also read that when the male portion is immature and green, you can cook it.  Not sure what that tastes like, though! The shoots can grow in shallow water and actually taste best when they are still in some water or at least moist ground.  By peeling the shoot, you can get down to what’s called the “heart’, which looks like the white part of a green onion.  Its taste is very mild, and a bit similar to cucumber, but not much.  The plant is also fairly gelatinous and has been applied to the skin where there are wounds or pain.  The leaves have also been used to make baskets or toys.


There’s so much more out there to learn, explore, and EAT! I hope this episode has taught you some things about wild edibles and has at least piqued your curiosity.  If you have any comments or questions about the topic, I’d love to hear from you and learn from you too!  Go to my website at or email me at [email protected].  You can also follow me on Twitter at @NutriSpeaking.  Thanks again for listening and I’ll see you next time!


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